Elton Chan joined Jardine Matheson in 2004 after graduating with a degree in philosophy, politics and economics from the University of Oxford. He has worked in Hong Kong, Macau and on the mainland, and is now general manager of the Shenzhen branch of Schindler China, which designs, installs and modernises lifts, escalators and moving walkways.
Tell us about your career path.
I became a management trainee at Jardines in September 2004. It was a three-year programme during which I had to pass the qualifying exam set by Britain-based CIMA [Chartered Institute of Management Accountants]. I worked for two companies under the Jardine Group.
What are the differences between working in Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Macau?
Businesspeople in Hong Kong more readily follow international rules and practices. People in Macau are more relaxed. Their business decisions are often affected by their emotions, feelings and relationships with other people. Connections (guanxi) matter a great deal to conducting business on the mainland. Since the government plays a crucial role, we have to pay close attention to policy developments that are relevant to our business. Working styles differ in these places too. People on the mainland tend to talk more instead of just doing their job.
What are the challenges of working on the mainland?
Hongkongers find it difficult to master Putonghua. When I first went to Shenzhen, I struggled to convey what I wanted to say. And, even if we can converse in Putonghua, we differ in the style of communication. For example, at the beginning of each business meeting, it is typical for representatives from both sides to give a five- to 10-minute speech – something we don't normally do in Hong Kong. It is also important to learn to read between the lines when you are in a meeting with mainland counterparts.
We have developed a close partnership with property developers, who have a close relationship with the government. We have to understand relevant policies and their changes. It's challenging to develop a good grasp of the complex government system.
What's your advice for young people?
It is a good idea for university graduates to work on the mainland. They should work for a company with an established business structure, such as a multinational corporation. That way, they can learn about how things are done on the mainland and also the best practices in the industry.
What are your future plans?
I will work in other Jardines companies on the mainland. Since China will be the world's economic engine in the next 20 years, continuing to work on the mainland will benefit my career development. There are better prospects of development in almost all industries – other than finance – on the mainland than in Hong Kong. I've learned a lot from working on the mainland, such as how to deal with people from different backgrounds and manage subordinates.